Man vs. Machine «
I wrote last week that the only thing this World Cup lacked was a truly great team. I’m still not sure that Germany is one, and I’m completely sure that Argentina isn’t. In a way, though, it doesn’t matter. These teams are playing for equally high stakes. Germany’s 7-1 win was instantly as legendary as many World Cup finals. If it wins the title, it will be remembered in the same breath as the best teams ever to play in this tournament, because you do not beat Brazil in Brazil by six goals en route to a world championship and still get dinged for drawing with Ghana. An Argentina win, meanwhile, not only gives the nation a schadenfreude-laced World Cup championship on the home turf of its continental rival. It also puts Messi beyond even the shoutiest pundit’s efforts to keep him out of the greatest-of-all-time debate.
And that’s what we’re playing for on Sunday. Validation for the best team in the tournament or validation for the best player in the world. In a sense, it’s perfect. Germany has the better squad, Argentina has the best player. Germany comes in after a terrifying rampage, Argentina comes in after holding on for dear life. Argentina, thanks to Messi, has a better chance of producing a moment that feels like magic, but Germany has just done something indescribably astonishing and strange. I think Germany will win, but I have no idea what will happen. I have no idea whether I will even believe it when it happens. After a month of stats, signs, and symbols, I am extremely excited to find out.
The spiral staircase to the upper room
delivered us to our longed-for vintage—
’75 Glenrothes, Speyside-aged
single malt, a ripe deep gold perfumed
with candied orange peel, made with honeycomb
and Bergamot marmalade. We engaged
each present friend on the fringe of language,
each blooming late with stories, quirks, and rumors.
If our mouths spoke of fate, we heard it said
with deeper intonations, like the blissful
youth of our host in emerald Oregon’s mists.
While darkness fell we toasted to echad,
meaning “one,” the sort of union that consists
of fellows gathered here, lamplit and glad.
– May 1, 2012
Paul Elie, “Advice You’ll Never Outgrow.” I’m reminded of the (one suspects apocryphal but wishes not) story about the Old Testament scholar Brevard Childs at Yale. Asked by a student upset over his grade on an essay how he could improve the next time around, Childs replied, “Become a deeper person.”
I went into his office and waited for a phone call to end. He stood. A smile, a cock of the head, a pat on the shoulder. He liked it, he said—liked it a lot. Then: “Go deeper. You need to go deeper.”
I asked him what he meant, and he explained, roundabout but in such a way as to draw clear lines between the literary text and all the other kinds of writing that washed up against the pilings of our office. What I’d written was too journalistic. It made too much of superficial connections. It was boosterish in style—it was trying to put the idea of a “school” of American Catholic writing over on us instead of trusting the material. And (again, all this was conveyed indirectly) it didn’t get to the bottom of what made these people a school, or what made them Catholic writers, or what made them Catholics at all, or why what they believed mattered to them or us.
Roger Straus liked it too—and Jonathan and FSG signed up the book. And day and night for a thousand days and nights I sought to go deeper, starting by moving my point of entry into the story back nearly half a century—to the moments where those four writers themselves turned, in their different ways, to literature and to religious belief in their own efforts to go deeper. And somewhere in the middle of those thousand days and nights, I concluded that the experience of depth—intellectual, emotional, spiritual depth—is the central literary experience. It is what makes literature literature, and what makes us read literature, and write it.
“Go deeper.” It’s not advice a writer can outgrow or set aside as unnecessary. Augustine asked, “Who understands his sins?” Likewise, what writer can truly say, “I’ve gone deep enough”?
Michael Robbins, “Know Nothing”
[According to Gray, “secular believers… are in the grip of unexamined dogmas.”] This will already have occurred to anyone who has spent five minutes browsing, say, the comments sections of Dawkins’ website. Though, as it happens, the most affecting response to this sort of arrogance I’ve encountered is also there, courtesy of an Orthodox believer calling herself Saint Cecilia. (I don’t know her real name, but she certainly has the patience of a saint.) On a comment thread devoted to misunderstanding Hart’s arguments, she gently corrects a few of the usual fallacies. The “pitch” of Christianity, she points out, has “nothing to do with the Big Bang or evolution or anything like that at all.” Nor is the existence of God a scientific proposition: “Christians aren’t talking about a math problem, they’re talking about a Person. And in the vast experience of people who claim to have had a genuine encounter with the Personality called Christ, there are certain things that are involved, such as willingness [and] humility.” The modest atheists respond with their customary persiflage: “Can you spell g-u-l-l-i-b-l-e?” Cecilia isn’t ruffled: “I spell gullible exactly as you did. Well done.” She continues:If someone is really interested in whether or not God exists, I’d say the best way is to have a little humility and experiment, with an open mind and heart, with the paths that Christians have claimed take you directly to him, in the ways that have worked. If someone isn’t willing to do such a thing, and insists that a discussion about painting be one about mathematics, then the conversation isn’t going to go anywhere.This spirit of invitation and inquiry is far from gullible, a calumny better directed at the evangelical-atheist faithful who thoughtlessly parrot what Emerson called “the tune of the time.” Again, the point is not whether God does or does not exist, but that, as Cecilia writes elsewhere in the thread, “Everyone is talking past each other and no one seems to be elevating the conversation to where it could and should be.”
from my review of Sara Miles’ book City of God in the July/August issue of Books & Culture (which you can access in full with a subscription! — something you won’t regret, I can promise)
To her credit, Miles incorporates dissenting voices in her narrative. She quotes one critic as saying, “Taking the imposition of ashes out of a liturgical context that includes scripture readings, the invitation to a holy Lent, and the litany of penitence, there is no insistence on the reality of sin or any call to repentance.” In the interest of full disclosure, as an Anglican of a very traditional sort myself, I should confess that I share this worry. I fret over whether “Ashes to Go” reduces Christian symbolism to its lowest common denominator, watering down the call of the gospel to name Jesus as rescuer but also judge. Still, I have to admit that ashes have never been considered a sacrament in the Christian tradition, and imposing them on pedestrians is not the same thing as if one were taking the Eucharist to the market square and offering it on the spot to anyone who wanted it. And perhaps ashes—simple and almost caustically stark; a reminder of mortality—are the ideal gateway drug to lure people into a full-fledged Christian faith. Perhaps “Ashes to Go” will be the thing that causes some people to receive, say, “Baptism to Stay.” As an Episcopal bishop friend of mine once put it, after his first experiment with the practice, “I see Ashes to Go as a sort of ‘pre-evangelism.’”
For Miles, taking part in this unconventional form of pre-evangelism has, she says, re-evangelized her. After several years of street-side Ash Wednesday liturgies, she is better able to picture the heavenly city the way she believes it will actually look—”like the ‘New Jerusalem’ bodega run by Syrian Christians that I trudge past on my way to work, its dingy pink front plastered over with Miller beer signs, its enthusiastic, unshaven owner waving and smiling each new day as he opens the door to welcome in a straggling, polyglot parade of schoolkids, nurses, winos, and day laborers.” Reading that, I can’t help but recall the ending of “Revelation” by Flannery O’Connor, in which Mrs. Turpin receives a vision of “a vast horde of souls … rumbling toward heaven”: “whole companies of white-trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs”—the population of the city of God. That vision of a motley contingent of pilgrims, foreheads all bedaubed with ashes, making their way to their celestial habitation is the gospel Miles has heard afresh. That’s the substance of her renewed eschatological hope.
Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig remembers John Huges
There’s a portion in the eulogy where you describe what they were like. It seems a little far fetched, like trying to describe a stained glass window: you can get across the shape of it, but that’s mostly it; there are too many colors to really communicate, because they change throughout the day as the sun shines from this angle or that, and with morning’s descent into evening a saint’s eye can look hopeful or mournful. Whether you intend it or not you always end up describing instead how it makes you feel: it’s beautiful, it’s amazing, it’s stunning, it’s a little sad…
John was a uniquely intelligent person with a singular talent for making other people feel as though they might have something to add. It’s a rare gift in someone with any amount of genius to be able to inspire contribution from others, and it isn’t really a fault of extraordinary talent that it intimidates. But his didn’t; it had rather the opposite effect. You could sit in the slant sunlight of his office and know you knew less than he and still feel dreamily compelled to think aloud: I know this because I did it.
“You’re a very expansive thinker,” John said, laughing a little. He had an airy, nervous laugh. I knew he meant I hadn’t made much sense, because I’d picked up too many threads in what I’d just said.
And still I didn’t feel as though I shouldn’t go on. This quality in him was either patience or love; whatever it was, it was a rare virtue.
If you love something that somebody does—some art, some words, some sounds—you tell them that you love it. You tell everyone how much you love it, repeatedly and enthusiastically. Don’t save your appreciation for later, or worry about wearing people out with your passion. Because the happy truth is this: If a piece of art truly moves you, you will never, ever run out of new adjectives to express how much you love it. Getting to love someone’s art is one of the very finest parts of being alive.Paul Constant (via)
Sometimes I think that all the really great works of surrealism predate our boring, modern obsession with dividing the real from the unreal, truth from fiction, the conscious mind from the dream. I’m using surrealism in its common and not specific sense; a lot of the works I’m going to mention are what you might call magical realist, or experimental, or postmodern, or just plain weird. I’m actually a fan of weird fiction myself. If my own writing ever spawns a genre, that’s the name I’ll lobby for. Anyway, in working on a current unfinished writing project, I’ve been rereading the Bible, and it’s reminded me that of a friend of mine who once said that Revelation was his favorite science fiction novel. I’m a fan of Job, myself, which would give Burroughs a run for his mugwumps, although for true weirdness, you really ought to reread Genesis, in which the utterly ordinary and the utterly otherworldly coexist and commingle in a manner totally alien to the modern ear and imagination; the poetry of creation gives way to genealogy, and God flits between instantiating His word and dickering with little humans over the specific price and measure of disobedience.Jacob Bacharach, “All Good Books Are Weird Books”
This is my commonplace book and sometime-journal.
I blog at SpiritualFriendship.org.
My book is here: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality.
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